Rock-climbing center offers  unique path to physical fitness

Jay Shultis, owner of Table Rock Bouldering, climbs in his new gym in Oneonta.Allison Collins 

Retired aerospace engineer and Otego native Jay Shultis, 37, has his hands — and feet — in Oneonta’s newest fitness venue.

Together with site manager Luke Malone, 28, Shultis is launching Table Rock Bouldering, a rope- and harness-free rock-climbing gym at 6 Market St. An open house is planned from 4 p.m. to midnight on Dec. 31, before a Jan. 1 opening.

Bouldering, Shultis said, evolved from mountaineering.

“It comes from climbing an actual boulder that broke off a cliff,” he said. “Climbers figured out that, by training on smaller boulders, they could learn more techniques and get better for the full-sized mountains, but these days, bouldering is its own thing.”

Shultis began climbing in 2002 and Malone, an Oneonta native, said he got hooked on the sport five years ago while traveling out west.

The gym, about 1,200 square feet in size, features custom-built climbing walls with graded handholds and footholds and 12-inch-thick bouldering-grade floor mats. The mats, Shultis said, were purchased with a $25,000 small-business grant awarded through the city.

The gym also offers an interactive, light-up “moon board” which syncs to a smartphone app to provide more than 28,000 personalized climbs, and a kid-friendly climbing cave tunneling into a loft.

Part of bouldering’s appeal, Malone said, is the social, problem-solving aspect of each climb.

“Each problem or route is a sequence of moves you plan out and execute to get to the top,” he said. “It’s all graded on a scale which varies in difficulty, so you can measure your progress. And each route here is color-coded, so you can climb anywhere just for fun, or if you want a greater challenge, you can pick a color.”

“People love the movement and the activity and how social it is,” Shultis said. “Mountaineering is kind of a solo thing ... but bouldering is more social and often done as a group. There’s a lot of play to it and it’s very free-form, so in a way it’s more similar to dance than other sports. It’s like choreography on the wall.”

Shultis said, for him, opening Table Rock is about bringing his passion to the community in which he grew up.

“I love climbing and I want people to experience it,” he said. “My background is in aerospace engineering and I’m back in Oneonta first and foremost because of family and place. I have a bunch of businesses here, but this is a passion project.”

“I love Oneonta and I want to see it improve,” he said. “We could’ve put (the gym) other places, but it’s downtown because I want downtown to be where people come to do things.”

“We’re trying to foster a bouldering community,” Malone said.

Starting Table Rock in Oneonta, Shultis said, also meant giving the area an attraction more typically found in large cities.

“The closest gym of this style is in Albany,” he said. “So, I think we’ll draw from a 45-minute radius. Just by putting this space here, we’ve had people literally coming out of the woods to find us.”

“There’s a burgeoning interest in climbing worldwide,” Malone said.

Shultis and Malone said, given the sport’s popularity, they foresee a varied clientele.

“Our main audience is going to be anywhere from preteen up to 40,” Shultis said, “but it’s definitely accessible to kids from 5 and, really, any age could try it.”

Shultis said he hopes youth involvement will be a positive byproduct of establishing the gym.

“Growing up in the area, high school kids were always saying, ‘There’s nothing to do here,’” he said. “So this is an area we can help them with and the same is true for college kids. This is something we can give them that’s more than just the next party and gets students excited about coming downtown.”

Malone said discussions with the just-formed Oneonta High School Climbing Club are underway.

Table Rock Bouldering offers family and individual memberships, punch and day passes, youth and student discounts and gift certificates. Climbing shoes will be available to rent. In March, Malone said, he plans to offer weekend birthday parties at the gym.

Following the New Year’s Eve open house, Table Rock Bouldering will be open from 3 to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Friday and 2 to 8 on Saturday and Sunday.For more information, visit tablerockbouldering.com, find “Table Rock Bouldering” on Facebook or follow @tablerockbouldering on Instagram.